Well this post is a bit late, considering Mardi Gras was well... 3 days ago.
Knowing now I like history/culture I will start off with some concerning Mardi Gras.
Based on their French roots, New Orleans is mainly Catholics, who celebrate Lent, 40 days to reflect on Jesus life while he was on this Earth. I think 40 days is in reference to Jesus being tempted in the desert (victorious of course). During this time, Catholics refrain from some item or thing they do which triggers them to reflect and find their strength on God and not themselves and resist temptation as Jesus did. 40 days before Easter is Mardi Gras which means "Fat Tuesday" in French. This is the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins. So, back in the day (when ever that day was), the people would cook up all the fat they had and made sweets and had a party to eat up all the goodies that they had in preparation for Lent.
To what began as a religious holiday, now is what we all know as one of the biggest, craziest parties in the world. Cajuns definitely know their food and how to have some fun even if most have forgotten what the true meaning of Mardi Gras is unfortunately (after you see pictures or experience the festivites you will understand what I mean when I say forgotten its relgious roots). However, I absolutely love the intense and unique culture in New Orleans almost as muchas I enjoy their food. There is no place on the planet in either of these categories (and I have been to alot of places!). The first time I took my Yankee-bred husband there he said, " All we do here is eat, drink, sleep and repeat - I like it though." I had to explain to him that is life in New Orleans. The French truly believe only they live life the way it should be lived, and thier cousin Cajuns max it out for sure.
One of my favorite foods during this time is the King Cake. It is a breaded dessert sometimes filled with cinnamon, jellies, or pudding topped with sugar icing in the Madi Gras colors of purple, gold and green. These colors stand for the three gifts that the Kings gave King Jesus at his birth (Frank incense - signifying holy , gold - to give royalty, and myrrh - which is a burial spice foretelling Jesus death for us all). There is a little plastic baby, Jesus, that is put in the cake. Tradition is that if you end up getting the baby in your slice, you ahve to bring the king cake next year! I could go on and on about the food in New Orleans, but really you cant go wrong. I love gumbo (Cajun style not Creole style), crawfish etuffee, poorboy, bananas foster, catfish, bengiets, cherries jubilee, hurricanes and especially bread pudding! Some of my favorite restaurants are Bon Ton Cafe, 3 Sisters, Hotel Montelone rotating carousel bar, Cafe Du Monde, Mammas, I could go on and on...
Aside the awesome food, during Mardi Gras beautiful parades line the streets. Certain distinguished families have their own "crews" that have balls and then ride the parades. Upstairs in a great restaurant called Arnuad's, there is a free museum where a former owner kept all of her beautiful Mardi Gras gowns and invitations.
Other than food and floats, there are some great things to see for families as well. Check out the Autobahn zoo -(don't skip the swamp section where you will see some white alligators!), the garden district, Jackson square live performances and side walk artists, a ride on the trolley (very famous - almost as old as the San Fran I think), and the awesome aquarium.
Go for a weekend and check it out!
Laissez les bon temps rouler!